Simone Veil homage: 'All French women can thank her'
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Beyond the dignitaries in attendance, hundreds of ordinary people turned out to pay their respects on Wednesday to Simone Veil at the Invalides military museum in central Paris.
The crowd included French women of all ages who shared their admiration with FRANCE 24 for the exceptional Frenchwoman, who died last Friday at 89.
Making her way out of the Invalides’ courtyard of honour, Caroline, a 76-year-old Parisian who came to say goodbye, was fighting back tears. “The ceremony reflected her well, intense and dignified,” she said of Veil. “All women can thank her,” Caroline added: “She brought us so much; she enabled us to have children.”
Caroline confides that she made use of the abortion law that Veil tabled as health minister and which was promulgated in 1975. “I was able to have an abortion in decent sanitary conditions, which enabled me to [still] have children afterwards. Some of my female friends were not so lucky,” she says, before adding: “Our children are grateful to her, too.”
But Caroline’s admiration for Veil does not stop at the termination law. “I appreciate everything she did for Europe,” says the septuagenarian, who deems herself profoundly European.
A Holocaust survivor who went on to serve as the first directly elected president of the European Parliament, Veil worked towards “reconciliation, for a Europe of peace, solidarity and shared progress", in the words of Veil’s son, Pierre-François, during a stirring homage to his mother on Wednesday, following another by his elder brother Jean.
In their remarks, Veil’s sons recalled the dramatic chapters in the life of their mother, an Auschwitz survivor, humanist stateswoman and member of the Académie Française, France’s highest literary honour. “Through the years, we learned to share you,” Pierre-François said.
In recognition of the icon she had become, Simone Veil’s family allowed the public at large to attend the national ceremony honouring her memory, giving the crowd access to the walkways that line the Invalides’ courtyard of honour. Cécile, 27, travelled from Alsace to say her goodbyes.
As a history student, Cécile first discovered Veil through books. “That is when I promised myself I would meet her,” she recalls. She wrote the legendary lawmaker a letter and received a reply. But it was in 2011, at a book festival in Saint-Louis, on the Swiss and German borders in Alsace, that she would finally meet her heroine. Cécile had to sneak in and foil security to get close to her.
“You are damned cheeky,” Veil told her. “A fine compliment! Since then, I operate purely on cheek. I am guided by her advice and I think that that is the only thing that works,” says Cécile, now a journalist, who carries a photographic keepsake of her meeting with Veil in her wallet.
Beyond Cécile, her parents and hundreds of others seem touched by Emmanuel Macron’s eulogy, where the French president underlined “the immense gratitude of the French people”. Hearty applause rang out when he announced that: “Simone Veil will enter the Pantheon, where she will rest alongside her husband Antoine Veil.”
“The applause resounded as if in relief; it was so spontaneous,” Caroline says. “As someone who signed the petition in favour of her entering the Pantheon, [I think] it was a good decision because it was announced quickly, without prevarication. It is a beautiful ending. And so well deserved.”
This article has been translated from the original, which appeared in French.